Nanoflower completes the Greg Mandel trilogy. Compared to the first two installments, Greg is now comfortably middle aged, a father with 4 kids (and one on the way), and a respected and successful fruit grower. Over the intervening 15 years since Quantum Murder, Julia Evans has healed Royan, they've become lovers, and have their own children all while continuing to run Event Horizon.
The story unfolds with Julie receiving a "flower" that appears to be of alien origin and points to Royan who has been missing. Julie engages Greg to track him down. At the time, rumors of a next generation technology begin surfacing resulting in a second made scramble. Greg goes up against a psychopathic techmerc following the same leads for the flower and the technology. The action is fast and furious, and nearly nonstop. While the eventual resolution is not unexpected, the denouement is still surprising.
Hamilton really begins to flex his muscles as a sci-fi grandmaster with this tale. The resulting alien biology (and microbiology) is refreshingly original and well detailed. Computer personalities are extended and space mining and colony settlements are ongoing. At its heart, this is a love story with multiple couples, each re-enforcing the theme. Perhaps the only legitimate criticism is the introduction of some new psy powers for Greg that while critical to the plot could have nevertheless been at least alluded to earlier. The narrator also deserves kudos for a fantastic range of voices.
Killing Floor is the 1st in the long running and hugely popular Jack Reacher series by Lee Child. Reacher is the quintessential loner, disillusioned with the world and people, who wanders off the grid. With his large bulk and military experience, he makes a formidable opponent and easily makes local authorities suspicious. His sense of justice and survival makes him an endearing character.
For this story, Jack wanders into a small Georgia town in search of the local flavor about an old jazz musician and ends up in the middle of an evolving mass murder scene that even includes his estranged brother. Jack manages to stay alive in what has become classic Reacher style, while piecing together a global conspiracy mystery with the help of some locals. The pacing is well executed with a good mix of action scenes, tradecraft, and solid detective work. Of particular note is that this story is pre-9/11 and as such is fascinating to hear about someone flying by paying in cash with no form of identification.
The narration is superb with a wide range of voices. The tone and mood for Jack is rendered as best could be imagined. Reacher is a solid franchise with a great, likable main character.
Zamyatin's We is a dystopian sci-fi story set in the 26th century. Written in the early 1920's the author projected what he expected was the logical extension of the then emerging and evolving Bolshevik revolution in his native country. In this future, the totalitarian state, Onestate, is absolute. People have letter/number names and wear specific colored uniforms. Their days and nights are regimented with even pregnancies tightly controlled, all under the guiding hand of the Benefactor. Onestate is located inside a walled region surrounded by primitive savages. Clearly, We served as the inspiration for Orwell's 1984, but is actually even bleaker and more dystopic than big brother.
The main character, D503, is working on a rocket ship, the Integral, that will search out intelligent life and spread the totalitarian word. D503 is co-opted by I330 who is a woman with nefarious plans to overthrow the government. D503 slowly loses his sense of reality, while the Onestate machine grinds ahead with plans to "treat" people to eliminate imagination as a final solution to total population control. Clearly, Zamyatin outlines in great details his fears and nightmares with the changing social and political events in his native land.
The narration is excellent, as is typical for Gardner with superb pacing, tone, and range of voices. While We may not be the first dystopic, future vision, he certainly set the standard for this genre for decades.
Berenson has maintained a high quality throughout the Wells' series and installment 8 is no exception. The plot is intricate with a well resourced and well connected adversary this time around. While Duto and Schaffer continue to evolve into different roles, Wells remains the pre-eminent spy/detective with assassin's instincts. This time out, Duto receives a tip and Wells investigates, while the CIA believes it's struck gold with a Rev guard informant. Wells performs impressive detective work to uncover the mastermind behind the various plots the CIA informant is passing along.
The action is less classic John Wells and more the gradual evolution of a middle age spy who prefers to forego the dramatic cinematic action scenes. At the same time, Berenson develops other characters with detailed backstories for additional action. The only ding to the tale is that while Wells does eventually get his man in classic John Wells style, the story ends without full resolution as the major puppetmasters remain at large and largely unidentified, suggesting, hopefully, that book 9 will complete the story arc.
The narration is simply superb. Guidall is a master of voices, tone, and pacing. His slightly gravelly rendition is perfectly suited for hard nosed spy thriller.
Larson has finally (after 9 installments) brought some closure into the life of one Kyle Riggs. At the end of the 8th installment, Riggs had finally succeeded in defeating Crowe and undertook the arduous task of restoring some semblance of rationality to Earth. Needless to say, he tires quickly in the job of governing and returns to space. He and Marvin cook up a scheme to glimpse beyond the Thor ring. There is more revealed regarding the ring and machine origins as well as some critical information regarding their particular local cul-de-sac. Riggs must battle the machines again and deal with the Blues all the while, sidestepping assassins and coup attempts. With a sense that Earth is safe for the foreseeable future, Riggs apes Cincinnatus and Washington to enjoy the sunset.
The sci-fi elements are in line was earlier installments with a bit more esoteric physics of gravity control. The space battles continue to evolve with the machines learning faster than humans. The limited alien diversity (intelligent anthropomorphic variants of Earth animals with annoying personality disorders) is still present.
The narration is passable with a limited range of characters.
Herling's The Last Firewall creates a semi-dystopian future where artificial intelligences (AIs) have basically all but superseded humans. In a somewhat implausible short span of time, neural implants (basically having your internet connectivity in your head) and AI technology have advanced such that AIs dominate the economic landscape and humans have been reduced to mostly welfare status. Against this backdrop is one AI with megalomaniacal ambitions, an emerging mob mentality anti-machine backlash, two individuals responsible for much of the state of affairs trying to sort things out, and a young girl with growing strange powers due to a unique instance of neonatal implants.
The sci-fi elements are focused on computer artificial intelligence and direct neural connectivity to online computer systems through physical implants. Some rather inventive ways of perpetrating crimes are presented that foretell future issues. The future societal organizing structure does strain credulity as it's hard to envision how AIs performing "work" instead of humans can invigorate the economy when most of the population is reduced to subsistence living and drug abuse. The plot and pacing are well executed and the story is an enjoyable listen nevertheless.
The narration is well done with a solid range of voices and excellent tone and tenor that matches the pace of the tale.
Currie's Odyssey One series 3rd installment continues to set a standard for a future universe not too dissimilar from the classic Star Trek. With the recent development of a faster than light drive, Earth has learned that not only is it not alone in the galaxy, but that other "humans" exist, their region of space is a bit crowded, and there are potential enemies to deal with. For #3, Currie brings the story back to Earth as more of the geopolitical tension and it's history (along with more of the backstory of Erik Weston) between the Confederacy and the Block are explored. Earth's location is revealed to both the Priminae as well as the Drasin. In addition, more insight is revealed regarding the Drasin origins that hints at future directions for this continuing saga.
The sci-fi elements are extensions of past installments with Earth's scientists and engineers continuing to devise ever more cleverer ways to redress the power curve differentials between Earth and everyone else. Currie continues to explore the theme of the Earth as an outlier in terms of its tactical skills and warfare oriented culture as a quality that begins to worry the rest of their galactic neighbors. Finally, Currie leaves the listener anticipating #4.
The narration remains simply superb with an excellent range of voices with great pacing and tone that matches the storyline.
Benford's In the Ocean of Night is the 1st installment of a 6 part series originally published in the 1970's. The significance is that the theme deals with alien contact and machine intelligence so the story has a primitive quality today that comes naturally from inherent limitations of its perspective of that time. The story centers around an astronaut who discovers an alien artifact believed to be an errant comet about to strike Earth. He next identifies another alien artifact as it enters our solar system a few years later and makes contact with the onboard AI. Finally, he is brought in to investigate what appears to be an alien artifact buried on the moon after an apparent thermonuclear device that may be another alien artifact on Earth detonates. Against this background, there is a religious movement with unclear motives that comes to dominate politics.
While quite popular in its day, probably due to its unique take on alien first contact, the tale suffers from underdeveloped characters. While the main character seems mostly adrift, supporting characters get extremely short shrift that makes their motivations and reactions quite uninterpretable. The fascination with BigFoot may have also been unique to the time period when the book was written which does not gel well today. By the end, it just wasn't clear what the author was trying to relate and the conclusion was far from satisfying. As an intro to a longer story arc, this is a disappointing appetizer.
The narration is good with a solid range of voices and good pacing with a tone suitable for the overall tenor of the tale.
Currie's 2nd installment, The Heart of Matter, is a solid follow-on to Into the Black. With Earth having developed a faster than light drive, Captain Eric Weston has taken his Odyssey crew out for cruise of their neighborhood only to learn that not only are there intelligent alien life forms, but that they appear to be human and have other unknown enemies as well. The sequel begins back on Earth with the Odyssey preparing to return to Rankeel with diplomatic and training teams.
This time out, we get a glimpse of the AI-like intelligence the Priminae refer to as "Central" that has some general oversight properties. There are more space battles (and planet-side) with the Drasin along with the discovery of a Dyson swarm that appears to be a giant Drasin shipbuilding operation around another star. Finally there are some mysterious and sinister clues revealed that hint at the Drasin origin. The original cast is back along with a few new characters. Currie has crafted a delicious space opera that is very "Star Trek-like" in its general theme, although uniquely original.
The narration is superb with an excellent range of voices along with good pacing and tone that makes for non-stop listening.
Jessica Meigs' The Becoming is a less than valiant effort for a fresh zombie thriller. A virus has escaped from the CDC and makes people violent cannibals which appears to be distinct from an actual zombie, but later in the tale, we learn they really are zombies. An eclectic band of people slowly coalesce and try to stay safe. By the end, they literally drive off into the sunset to another safehouse.
The timeframe is present day without any true sci-fi elements save for the virus, whose origin is never explained, nor is there any attempt to do something about the infection, nor do we ever learn what is happening in the rest of the world. Most of the plot is dealing with short tempers flaring and people have a tough time dealing with loss. The menagerie that is accumulated along the way has little to recommend themselves and arrive with little in the way of intriguing backstories or histories. There's also little in the way of action except for escape scenes, since there's always too many "zombies" around to do anything else.
The narration is quite good with a solid range of voices for both genders and adolescents.
Cyberstorm is an end of world type tale taking place today due to a combination of international saber rattling, complete loss of the internet, and horrible weather. The story is told through the eyes of a young hi-tech executive dealing with personal issues and trying to survive with his family intact. The unique angle for the story is that the listener is as much in the dark as to the true nature of the situation as the main protagonist; it's unclear whether everything is following some dark, sinister master plan.
Most of the story takes place in Manhattan with an ever increasing severity of events: loss of power and water, lack of communications, massive blizzard conditions. Rumors abound and from the limited perspective the character have, it's easy to understand conspiracy theories unfolding. Creative solutions abound with a solid ensemble supporting cast. Overall, the story presents a realistic portrayal of the consequences of societal collapse.
The narration is excellent with a solid range of voices and god pacing and tone.
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